Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (Labor Party) sees no qualms about him saying yes when his friend, Knut Brundtland, invited him to a private dinner with the oil fund manager.
Jonas Gahr Støre says that he accepted the invitation – in May last year – because he thought it was interesting to meet Nicolai Tangen, who was appointed head of the oil fund in March 2020.
He emphasizes to Aftenposten that at the time of the dinner he was a regular parliamentary representative. And that it is important for parliamentary representatives to meet government officials, also in informal contexts.
– I think it was interesting to meet this oil fund manager, who was new, and who has extensive experience from the international economy. Hear how he assessed the world economy. That was what we were talking about. I believe a parliamentary representative should seek the opportunities one has to have such a conversation. I thought it was only natural for me to talk to Tangen.
Tangen spoke Stoltenberg
He says he, Tangen and Brundtland talked together for about two hours.
– We had a conversation about international economics. About what is happening with green investments and what experiences Tangen had gained. It was an interesting conversation. I had never met him before. So when the invitation came, I thought it was a great opportunity to meet him.
– But why are you talking about Stoltenberg as a possible new central bank governor?
– It was not a case there, but the situation that Norges Bank is in, came up. The bank stands in an international landscape that is demanding, both strategically and in terms of security policy. In that context, Tangen said that leading this is demanding, and that a man like Jens Stoltenberg has experience with it. We talked about this for about 50 seconds, says Støre.
Jens Stoltenberg discussed the job as central bank governor in a private dinner with the oil fund manager
He adds that this was in May 2021, long before a possible change of central bank governor was to take place. Outgoing central bank governor Øystein Olsen’s term expires in January 2023. However, Olsen announced this autumn that he will resign as early as February 2022.
– But I also said then, that should such a situation arise, that Stoltenberg became a candidate. We were in government, so I could not say anything about it.
– So Tangen thought that Stoltenberg would be a good candidate?
– I do not want to say that he did it. But it was said that this is a task that is of such a nature that a guy like Stoltenberg, with his experience, could lead the central bank.
– Many people react to you meeting Tangen in a private setting, with your friend Knut Brundtland, in a dinner, and not in a regular meeting. Do you understand that?
– I had no opportunity to meet the oil fund manager in May, in the position I had as leader of the Labor Party and as a parliamentary representative. There are no channels for that.
– But it gives a left-behind impression that powerful men meet for private dinners and present Stoltenberg as central bank governor. What do you think about it?
– There has been no candidate for such a position in dinners I have participated in. What impression people have of three men eating dinner, almost every individual has to make up an opinion of. It was a completely normal dinner, says Støre.
Failed to mention Stoltenberg contact in NTB interview
Støre is adamant that he has not discussed his job as central bank governor with Jens Stoltenberg. But he now admits that the topic was “mentioned” by Stoltenberg, when they went for a walk together on October 24 last year.
In another statement TV 2 On Monday, Støre said that Stoltenberg informed him on October 24 that he might be interested in the position as central bank governor.
“I replied that this is a topic we can not talk about in that case, since I as prime minister will be incompetent. Since then, we have not talked about or had contact with the topic “, Støre wrote to TV 2.
However, Støre failed to mention this contact when NTB interviewed him about the case in December.
Støre says he did not do it, because he does not want to define it as a “conversation”.
– But could you not inform that Stoltenberg informed you that he might consider applying, when NTB asked you if you had talked to him about the position?
– The whole point of what I said to NTB was that we not had talked about his candidacy. At that time, it was also not known that Olsen would retire before the term expired in 2023.
– But why did Stoltenberg mention his interest in the job of central bank governor to you?
– This was October 24th. The press was full of mention that Stoltenberg could be relevant for the position. When he mentioned this review, I said that “now we stop this conversation”. So we did not discuss the matter.
Støre says that two days before, on Friday 22 October, he had been given a record at SMK that he would be incompetent “if what was happening in the media now”.
– But again, why do you think Stoltenberg mentioned this to you?
– It was in the news picture. We are old acquaintances and were on a trip. He said this could be something he would consider, but he had not yet applied. I said then that now we stop this, I am incompetent. The conversation on this topic lasted for 15 seconds.
– Why could you not just tell NTB that Stoltenberg had raised the topic with you?
– It did not really occur to me. The point was that we did not discuss the matter.
– Can we trust you to tell the truth?
– But you did conceal the fact in the case, when you told NTB that you had never talked to Stoltenberg about this?
– The point is I have not talked to Stoltenberg about his candidacy.
– In retrospect, should you have answered NTB differently?
– I could of course have said that I marked that we are not talking about this. And that I have been practicing this ever since. But I have not on any occasion discussed this with him.
Majority against Stoltenberg’s candidacy
Stoltenberg is competing for the position of central bank governor against the current deputy central bank governor Ida Wolden Bache.
It is the government’s responsibility to appoint a new central bank governor. It does not need a majority for the decision in the Storting.
The opposition is nevertheless critical of how the government has handled the case. And a majority in the Storting is skeptical about appointing the former prime minister to the post.
The skepticism is not about whether Stoltenberg is qualified, but whether an appointment of Stoltenberg will have anything to do with people’s perception of the central bank’s independence.
It is assumed that a decision in the case will come at the earliest at the end of next week.